Leicester City have finished their season in 8th place, shocking fans, pundits and staff in doing so. Despite sitting in 7th at mid-season, and missing out on the play-off spots by just 1 point, there can be no complaints from anyone associated with the club. Leicester were pegged to be rock bottom before the season kicked off as per the “Season 13 Division 4 Stats and Facts” report, a view shared by the chairman who’s only goal (more a hope) was to avoid relegation. The preseason report had Leicester rated 1.29 lower than Malaga in 19th. Within that same margin (1.29) above Malaga, there were 10 teams, showing just how far behind Leicester were on paper. Despite this, a quick start and several key signings meant the Foxes shocked the division finishing 12 places above their expected position. So how did the season unfold?
54 – The total points tally for the season was expected to be between 35 to 40 before the season began, but the team impressed many and finished with 54 points. Considering the huge changes in the team and drop in squad rating, a drop of just 6 points from Season 12 is incredible, especially considering the team is still in a phase of rebuilding.
36 – Leicester City were the joint 2nd lowest scoring team in the division, netting only 36 goals. This was equal to Athletic Club, who finished 20th, and 1 more than PSV who finished 16th. Of all of these goals, Oussama Idrissi was directly involved in 24, showing the teams over reliability on just one player.
39 – Despite their poor attacking figures, Leicester did boast the joint 5th best defence in the league, conceding just 39 goals. The arrival of Luigi Sepe is believed to have played a large part in this figure, with the keeper earning an average rating of 6.95 and being voted man of the match 5 times.
66 – Throughout the season Earle has been trying to put the team in the best position possible as they move forward, part of that process has been the completion of 66 transfer deals, with another 1 already agreed for the start of next week.
Where Are They Now?
Of the staring XI from the first game of the season, only 3 remain at the club, and only 2 are playing regularly. Goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski was sold to Sampdoria after 16 games, with Luigi Sepe coming the other way. Skorupski has been making issues in Italy, complaining about a lack of game time, despite featuring in all 22 games since he arrived. Wing backs Joel Andersson and Eder Balanta were both sold and are still working to find their feet at their new clubs while Alessandro Bastoni has returned to Genoa following his loan. He was one of the brightest players for the Foxes this season and will be hard to replace. His centre back partner and club captain Bonfim Dante also moved on, joining Besiktas in their Division 5 fight for promotion. John Fleck made his long awaited move to Internazionale, while Irfan Kahveci joined West Ham United, despite being labelled as off limits earlier in the season. And finally Ze Luis Joined Partizan as part of a deal to bring a new left back to Leicester. The striker has made just 6 appearances for the Division 5 team. Sander Berge and Oussama Idrissi have both remained key players throughout the season, missing just 1 game each in the league. Remi Oudin has also stayed, but has made just 9 starts in all competitions.
The Season to Come.
The upcoming season is expected to be slightly calmer than this season. Earle believes he has a great mix of youth and experience, but is also aware that improvements are still needed. The team has undergone a full restructure over the past few weeks, with an emphasis on bringing in youth talent, which has cost several senior squad players their spots. Despite this, the 1st team is looking strong. Last seasons player of the year Oussame Idrissi has signed an extension, with Douglas Luiz, Sander Berge and Faitout Maouassa all following suit. On top of these extensions, Mouctar Diakhaby and Enes Unal both joined creating a solid core of young players in the starting line up. Darwin Machis and Luigi Sepe also look likely to retain their positions following good campaigns from both. Filling out the staring XI is expected to be Paolo Farago, Robin Knoche and Jhon Cordoba. However, there will be tougher competition for places this season with Tony Jantschke and Nivaldo Jardel experienced options at the back and Derlis Gonzalez offering versatility and talent up front. These are not the only depth options however, and Earle is hopeful that throughout the season other players will step up and challenge for starting roles. Yangel Herrera is still seen as one of the most promising midfielders in the squad. While his opportunities have been limited so far, fans and pundits believe that he will be given a chance this season and potentially push for a more permanent role. David Garcia, Gael Kakuta, Angelo Fulgini, Remi Oudin and more will also be hoping to come into contention.
Improving the staring XI usually comes at the cost of youth prospects. This, however, has been avoided, and the Foxes youth squad looks to be in its strongest position since Earle arrived. Retaining the three big names was always going to be a challenge with Josh Sargent, Carlos Cuesta and Luis Sinisterra all attracting interest. Despite this, they all remained, along with the equally promising quartet of Maxime Busi, Martin Zubimendi, Dominik Fitz and Paul Nebel. So far there have been 6 new U21 additions to the squad, with several more still being followed. The landmark signing was Kik Pierie from Leverkusen, costing just £5,000,000. The 20-year-old is expected to partner Carlos Cuesta at centre back for the youth competitions, but will likely see most of his senior action at left back this season. Following him in were midfield trio Noah Diliberto, Nikolas Nartey and Daan Huisman. Diliberto and Nartey are likely to compete for a starting youth spot while Huisman will need to develop more before becoming an option. The defence was improved further with the capture of Leo Greiml from SK Rapid Wien. The 19-year-old will provide back up at centre back, but could get game time if a youth left back doesn’t join. Finally, Hugo Souza arrived from Flamengo. The Brazilian keeper is someone Earle expects to see a lot from in the future and will need to show his ability in the youth team. In Souza, Leicester will hope that they have secured a long term option, although he still has a long way to go.
Onwards and Upwards
The season has been a complete success for Leicester. Not only have they performed better than expected, they did so while bringing in younger starting options and retaining, and building on, the clubs future. It seems obvious next season that more goals are needed to propel the team forward. However, it would be foolish to assume that this is a team who will regularly push for the play offs. It is likely that next season will be tougher, but it is key that Earle sticks to his plans and maintains a clear focus on the teams long term objectives.